“Being A Working Mother Is Impossible”; Catherine Reitman & The Myth Of Work/Live Balance
After six seasons & two children Workin’ Moms creator & star has some insight on the subject.
There’s always this uncomfortable moment when you’re interviewing a celebrity mom or, really, any successful woman: the moment when you ask yourself “do I ask her how she maintains work-life balance?” Some are women are sick to death of this question: they get it all the time and, by the way, do we ever ask this of men? Others find it necessary: to suggest parenting while pursuing a career isn’t a high stakes balancing act is disingenuous and they don’t want to contribute to the idea that “having it all” is easy. Catherine Reitman – creator and star of the hit series Workin’ Moms and mom of two sons, Jackson, 9 and Liam, 6 – understandably gets it a lot, and she has a great answer. “I'm not angry at the question,” she tells Romper by phone. “I'm angry at the answer, only because I don't think it exists. Being a working mother is impossible.”
It’s this level of honesty and insight that has resonated with IRL working moms (and, parents of any stripe) over six seasons since 2017. Workin’ Moms, which has been renewed for a (final) seventh season, has delved into topics ranging from breastfeeding and postpartum depression, childcare to family leave, and the social politics of playdates among school age kids – subjects that have rarely been addressed on television, least of all with the kind of accuracy or emotional depth regularly honored on the show. In fact, Reitman tells me, when the show first came out people – from journalists to audiences –didn’t necessarily know what they were in for. They figured sit-com storylines and jokes about poopy diapers. (You can’t completely blame them: it’s what we’ve come to expect of motherhood on television.) Reitman is happy to correct misconceptions.
“If you actually watch our show, the storyline percentage of us interacting with our kids is probably less than 20%,” she notes. “This is really a show about women outside of their nurseries. It’s about women who happen to have the identity of mothers going after their dreams unapologetically.”
Initially, Reitman wrote each character after different aspects of her postpartum self – anger, vanity, ambition, depression – but observes happily that the characters have taken on lives entirely their own (“a real testament to the talent of our actresses”). Similarly, the storylines, the issues faced by these characters, are beyond anything on her radar back when she first began the series. Like motherhood, or children, it’s morphed and grown and evolved.
“When we sold the show initially, my only knowledge of what this show could be with the identity crisis of the first time you returned to work after having a baby, that's all I knew,” she says. “And then, of course, as the show progressed, so did my children. Early on you're dealing with the fellow mothers at Mommy & Me and your transition back into the workplace to now, oh my god, I'm dealing with principals of my kids who are currently in first grade and the realities of my children's schedules are demanding more of me or less of me. It's all these sort of natural flux of parenthood that goes as your kids get older.”
Despite being in “different waters,” six years later, the show has never stopped being deeply personal for Reitman, who notes that she wrote this show “not as an actor but as a mother.” When I ask if this level of openness with her struggle is draining, she pauses for a moment before bursting into a loud, hearty laugh.
“Sorry to laugh,” she says. “But I mean, absolutely! But in no way that it's different than it's draining for you [as a mother], I'm sure! This is why the show is successful: it's not because I'm some person who understands motherhood in a more complex, interesting way than anybody else. It's just like, of course this is draining!”
“Right,” I laugh. “But I mean, there's being a working mom, and then there's putting it out there like in a way that I don't think most people do: intended for public consumption.”
“I'm in the right job for my personality type, perhaps,” she replies. “I'm just telling the most honest version of my story, and other people are connecting to that. In season one, I didn't know that would be the case. I thought, oh, god, I'll probably lose the audience, but you know what? I'm just going to tell the most authentic version of my story. Six seasons later, it's not draining. The demands of my life are, of course, taxing, but I know I got it good.”
It’s a dichotomy – difficult but rewarding– that she hopes her children, who were two and five weeks when the show began filming, can see in its full complexity.
““[Parents] are our closest teachers to going ‘This is how we deal with failure; this is how we deal with success,’” she observes. “I really enjoy what I do and I feel really lucky that my kids are actually witnessing my struggle. They're experiencing what's important to me. And when I don't get it or get the goal, they're seeing that drive in their mother, and that is incredibly rewarding.”
Seasons 1-6 of Workin’ Moms is available to stream on Netflix. The next and final season will premiere winter 2023.